NAB to FCC: EAS Should Not Be Extended to Streamers

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Broadcasters are telling the FCC that over-the-top video providers can't be relied on to relay emergency alerts, saying that, at least currently, the technological challenges make it "extremely burdensome, and likely infeasible, to update the EAS system to enable alerts to consumers provided through the internet, including through streaming devices."

With streaming growing in popularity, the FCC is asking whether over-the-top video providers should be required to provide the alerts in preparation for a report to Congress, which directed the FCC to look into expanding EAS online NAB wants that report to conclude it is not time to extend EAS to over the top.

Emergency communications along with local news are among broadcasters' biggest talking points when it comes to asserting their continuing importance, and differentiation from the over-the-top services that have multiplied during the pandemic, AT&T's merger with Discovery assets Monday (May 17), for example, was all about creating stronger over-the-top video services.

The National Association of Broadcasters told the FCC in comments on the issue of EAS on OTT that expanding the Emergency Alert System to Internet services would be extremely difficult, and that as far as it knows no pure play streaming service is currently supporting EAS alerts.

NAB said the problem with EAS streaming is two-fold. First, web-based architecture does not usually contemplate the kind of localized infrastructure that allows for monitoring alerts based on geography or event type. Second, the "limitless" nature of streaming "makes it virtually impossible to geo-target the transmission of EAS alerts" to the consumers for whom it is relevant.

As to using IP addresses to target, NAB points out that 31% of all internet users use a VPN, which are designed to enhance privacy by masking IP addresses.

"Without accurate location information, streaming services have no way of discerning where the consumer is located," said NAB. "For example, a viewer in California could be streaming a Virginia-based TV station’s newscast, or streaming a Florida-based radio station while in O’Hare Airport. This could lead to dangerous confusion if EAS alerts are not properly distributed to only the relevant areas or consumers. Also, if consumers are inundated with irrelevant alerts from streaming services because of an inability to accurately geofence distribution, it could desensitize the public to EAS alerts, causing them to ignore alerts of particular importance."

NAB also raised some shadows over streamers about the FCC's ability to monitor them. "[O]nline video and audio streamers like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify are generally unregulated by the Commission," it said, adding that "many streaming services are based outside the U.S. or are partially owned by foreign
shareholders." It also said it "understood" that some services are using hardware or servers they don't directly control.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.